Thursday, May 2, 2013

Knowing When to Pick Your Flowers

I don’t know about you, but there’s something about flowers that I can’t refuse. I’ll plan a “quick trip” up to Lowe’s and come home with four new plants and some half-dead clearance flowers. I love the color, and the fragrance, and the bounty of flowers.

In many ways, I think they work as a great example of the beauty that can come from writing.

For starters, we reap what we harvest. I know we’ve all heard the concept so many times, and yet it’s so easy to allow time to gradually slip on past. We have to be intentional about claiming our harvest. We have to sow good seed and water it well, and pull up the weeds.

But sometimes weeds aren’t the only things that need pulling up. Sometimes we have to pull up flowers to make room for new growth. So how do you know when it’s time to “deadhead” your writing?

Well, for starters, let’s take a lesson from flowers.

My mom got me a beautiful daisy plant for my four anniversary last month. I love daisies because they grow well in Florida (which you can’t say about many flowers—thank you, ridiculous summer heat) and are easy to care for. Plus, who doesn’t agree with Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail? Daisies really are the friendliest flower.

Thing is, I do not like picking off the kind-of-dead daisies. I wait and wait and wait for these little flowers to bloom after carrying for the green leaves for months, and when they finally do, the last thing I want is to pick off the flowers prematurely.

But the thing I’ve learned is this. If I don’t deadhead my wilting flowers, I prevent new blooms from forming.

Did you catch that? Because it’s a powerful concept God showed me this week.

Sometimes when we are writing, we become so emotionally invested in our story that all we can see are the petals. One by one, they may be wilting, but we do not want to pick them off the plant because they matter so much to us. What we don’t realize is that by not being proactive about cutting off the dead flowers, we are actually refusing future blooms. We are holding back the life of the plant by hanging on to the dying petals just a little longer.

What we don’t see is the bountiful harvest God has in store with the fresh blooms.

The question then becomes… what ways can we clean up our stories to allow this kind of fresh growth?

  •     The narrative. There have been so many times I have loved—and I mean absolutely loved—a particular line or passage, only to have someone read it and say, “ehhhh,” or even to later read it myself and think, “Why did I write that?” When we hold too tightly to the story we started with, we can’t grasp the bigger story that might still be forming.
  •       The plot. Yes, I know this is a tough one. In fact, cleaning up the plot is probably a lot more like pruning than deadheading flowers, but for the purpose of the analogy, it’s really the same. Writing books takes a long time. Often when we finish, we don’t feel like going back and restructuring plot problems. But the thing is, we may as well be leaving a gaping, diseased tree limb in the middle of our favorite tree, just waiting for it to take the whole tree down. When your critique partner or first readers come back to you and say they think a plot point just isn’t strong enough, I encourage you to listen. Brainstorm creative alternatives to what you have written. You may be amazed at what you come up with, and find that your current story is just the starting point for something better than you ever imagined.
  •    The book. Okay, this is a hard one, but it has to be mentioned. Sometimes God gives us a story for a purpose other than for it to be published. In any other arena of life, we have to practice a lot before we master form and craft. Think of piano lessons, or dancing, or even learning to read. I think we are often too hard on ourselves by expecting our first novels to not only sell, but to sell well. The reality is, sometimes it takes not only multiple drafts, but also multiple novels. It doesn’t mean your novel is dead forever, but maybe God is calling you to put it on the shelf for a while so you can focus on the new bud that is forming in your heart. Currently, I’m doing a total overhaul of the first book I ever wrote, and I’m confident it’s the best story God has given me yet. What may look like the death of a book to you may actually be God asking you to trust Him as He calls you to redirect your time and focus, and allow Him to do the planting. Maybe He is in the process of rooting an old project you have long since considered dead, but is really in a period of dormancy so the harvest will be greater in the end. Don’t give up hope. Follow God, and keep writing the stories He has put on your heart.

Do you like gardening in the spring and summer months? Do you, like me, hesitate to pull off those kind-of-dying blooms? What sorts of blooms are you hoping for in your writing as you “deadhead” the weak areas?

Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook,Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Angie Dicken said...

Great analogy, Ashley! I have struggled with all of those points. It's hard to pick those wilted flowers, especially plot...but I've found that I reap a great bounty of blooms when I do!!! Love ya!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Love this, Ashley. The reminder that we have to do some dead-heading to see the new blooms is true--in gardening, in life, and in writing.

I do enjoy planting flowers in our planters on our deck. I'm okay with dead-heading those because I know there will be new blooms coming up after I do. :) In my writing? Not so much. Those certain phrases or characters sometimes have to be dead-headed or altered and it's hard to do it.

Some blooms I hope for are characters who are vibrant and likable. :) There are others too, but I'll stop there.

Thanks for this post today, Ashley!

Keli Gwyn said...

As a wordy writer, I have to do a lot of pruning. My delete key has become my friend. I like watching my story get better (and tighter) before my eyes.

Of course, I did wince when I learned that I had to cut 75,000 words of the story that led to my offer of representation because they didn't work. I cut them, rewrote them, and was much happier with the new ones. My willingness to chop my story to bits worked for me, because my agent sold it. These days I like to say I'm not a writer, I'm a rewriter.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Somehow it seems an easier task to prune a flower than to prune our work. We know God's great creative hand will bring a new flower, but can we create the new and better sentence/para/chapter/plot? Ah, there is where the doubt comes.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

How encouraging. You are able to see a bigger picture than many of us. Having the desire to modify for the sake of a better product is a sign of excellence. :)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

This was a fabulous post. It has many petals of truths, I think more than you realized. It is one of those posts that each reader can see their need and grow.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I'm very late to the party, but I just wanted to say how much I LOVED this post! Rings so true for me in every regard - especially point 2 about plot. I have a few of those diseased limbs in my novel and I've been hanging onto them for dear life even though I think I know deep down they will have to go. Thanks for this clear-sighted and wise advice, Ash.